MILK COURSES through my veins, for I am the daughter of a dairy farmer.
Growing up, I labored in the barn beside my dad and siblings—feeding cows, bedding straw, lugging pails of milk to the bulk tank, washing milking machines, scraping manure and more.
I smelled of cow, watched bovines’ tails flick flies and rise to release streams of splashing hot pee into barn gutters.
Sandpaper rough tongues sometimes grated across my skin. Cold, wet noses dampened the sleeves of my chore coat.
I carried gallons of frothy fresh milk to the house for pasteurization and consumption.
I knew cows and milk and once competed for Redwood County, Minnesota, dairy princess, a title I coveted but could not win because I lacked the poise and confidence and beauty to represent the industry.
These memories flit through my mind as I consider a recent visit to the Steele County History Center in Owatonna to tour the featured exhibit, Steele County: Butter Capitol of the World.
It’s a must-see exhibit which will trigger memories for those who grew up on dairy farms and educate those who didn’t. And, even with my dairying background, I learned a lot about the history of dairy farming in Steele County.
For example, Steele County gained its world-wide Butter Capitol reputation after Owatonna Manufacturing Company invented the mechanized butter churn in 1893, revolutionizing the dairy industry.
But two decades prior, in 1873, the county was well on its way to establishing a strong dairy reputation with four local cheese factories producing 150,000 pounds of cheese, more than any other Minnesota county.
At one point, Steele County boasted two dozen-plus creameries.
In December 1926, thieves stole 19 tubs of butter valued at $700 from the Steele Center Creamery.
Two Steele County women, Mina Holmes and Marianne McRostie, won numerous national awards for their hand-churned butter.
Yes, so many accomplishments led to this southern Minnesota county holding the title of Butter Capitol of the World from 1898 – 1940, says Jerry Ganfield, who along with a committee of four women involved in the dairy industry, created this remarkable exhibit. Ganfield, holds a background in communications and marketing, grew up in Iowa and worked one summer during college as a milkhouse operator. Today he lives in a barn turned house near Bixsby and volunteers with the Steele County Historical Society, serving on its board of directors.
Work on the Butter Capitol exhibit began in January with the historic display debuting in mid-July. It runs through November 10. Eventually, many of the items will be returned to the farm machinery building in the Village of Yesteryear (next to the Steele County History Center) where most were previously displayed.
Perhaps I am a bit biased being a dairy farmer’s daughter and all. But this exhibit is one of the most impressive, thorough, detailed and interesting I’ve seen in a county history center.
Steele County: Butter Capitol of the World is well worth a drive to Owatonna to peruse. Just give yourself two hours, minimum, to tour the display.
The Steele County History Center encourages kids to join its Time Travelers Club and History Detectives. The detectives meet at 10:15 a.m. and the travelers at 6:30 p.m. the first Thursday of each month at the History Center, 1700 Austin Road, Owatonna.
© Copyright 2013 Audrey Kletscher Helbling